Torben listened as his mother whispered the tale he could recite by heart. For as long as he could remember, this had been the tale that his mother had told him to lull him to sleep, to comfort him when he was sick or afraid, to amuse him when he was bored. It was a tale he never tired of hearing. He often imagined that the fierce warrior that his mother spoke of, the one that had claimed the love of a Valkyrie, was his father. His mother rarely spoke of his father now, but Torben remembered everything she'd ever told him about the man he'd never been able to meet. it seemed to his mind now, that the fairy tale and the legends of his sire were one and the same, and he wondered if the passing of the years hadn't confused his mother.
"And the Valkyrie married the Warrior, and bore him a son. A strong boy, who grew to be a strong man, a Jarl, a conqueror of lands."
His mother's voice was hoarse and broke on the last words. He lifted the cup of water to her lips with one hand, and slipped his other arm around her frail shoulders to lift her from the bed so that she could drink. She took a sip, but immediately started coughing. Torben quickly set the cup on the floor, and helped his mother to sit as straight as possible until the wracking coughs had finished tormenting her slight frame.
His mother was a healer, a good one. Torben couldn't name anyone from the town who hadn't sought his mother's aid, who had not benefited from her knowledge. And yet, she was not getting any better. The sickness that had come on with the last snow would not leave her. It was stubbornly stealing all her energy. The cough was getting worse. He reached now for the linen by the side of the bed, and helped his mother to spit out the blood that was clogging her lungs. Torben winced. It was more than usual, and darker, too. He was beginning to suspect, with a wisdom born of recently realised mortality, that his mother did not wish to heal herself.
He was no fool, he knew about death and all it's many forms. He had delivered it to countless foes during the course of his adventures. He had even delivered it to friends, when they had begged him to save them from a grievous wound and ensure their passage to now, holding his dying mother in his arms, he realised that he, too, would grow old and die. That one day, he might wish for death, rather than life.
"I love you, mother." Torben whispered.
"And I love you, son. You've been a good boy. Your father is proud, I know he is."
"Father is dead, mother." Torben thought the sickness might be playing with his mother's mind.
"Yes, but he watches you from Valhalla. He sees you, and he loves you."
"Will you join him, mother?"
"Yes, if Odin will let me, if Freya has forgiven me."
"You should ask them." Torben said, as he laid his mother gently down against the pillows, confident for the moment that the coughing fit had passed.
"Yes." His mother closed her eyes. Their colour had remained sharp and clear, but their abilities had been failing her of late. "Yes, I think I shall ask them now."
Torben watched his mother slip into sleep, and wished for calm and pleasant dreams for her. He hoped, if it made her happy to do so, that she dreamed of his father, and that maybe, she dreamed of him also, and the family that had never been.
Rollo knew he wasn't like his fellow warriors. To them, there was nothing strange and dreamlike about Valhalla. They didn't find it odd that Odin's hall was both the same size as a longhouse in Midgard and infinitely big. That the snow outside never melted, yet it was always warm. They didn't wonder why time seemed to stand still. In Valhalla there was just this moment. No future, no past, just now.
Except for Rollo.
"Why do you still wait for her, Rollo?" Freya asked, as she always did. "She must be an old woman now, worn down by life in your realm. Would you not prefer one of the maidens here?" Her laugh was soft, enticing-everything about her was enticing. "Kara isn't the first Valkyrie to take a lover, if that's what you prefer. I'm sure many would be happy to give up the right to harvest the fallen for a prize such as you."
"I will wait for Kara, my queen."
"But you are so sad. Look at your brothers, Rollo. Look how happy they are. Just one kiss and you could be as happy as them."
He sighed. "I am not unhappy. I'm waiting."
Rollo closed his eyes. It had been a long time since he'd looked down on his wife… or maybe it had been a heartbeat ago. His son-his fine son-had grown into a mighty warrior, and Kara had grown old, but he knew that the woman that joined him would be young and beautiful. And even if that was not the case, it made no difference. He had promised to remember her, he'd promised to wait.
"Why do you care?" Freya was being more insistent than usual. "Kara selfishly snatched you from me. It is because of her, you endured such pain. Why you endure it still."
There was no way to explain to Freya, the ways of love. He smiled as memories as fresh as if they were yesterday-perhaps, indeed they were-filled his being. Of her touch, her kiss. How her hair felt between his fingers. Of her body writhing under his. Rollo dared to look into his queen's eyes. "She loved me… loves me still. Please, Freya, allow her to come home. You have punished her enough."
Freya's eyes narrowed. "She stole you from me. Do you really think I will forgive her for that? She can wander through Niflheim until the end of time. It is no less than she deserves."
"Then I wish to leave this place." Rollo shrugged. "My place is at my woman's side. Wherever that may be."
Rollo spun around as a hand touched his shoulder, then immediately averted his gaze. "My lord, Odin."
"Walk with me. Rollo."
It didn't surprise him that, despite walking through the door he always did, the world outside was changed. Rollo looked around. The hall was gone, and in it's place was….. nothing. Just a huge expanse of white. He turned to Odin and frowned.
Odin laughed and pointed to a figure, far in the distance. "Your wife awaits you, Rollo, greatest warrior, bravest of men. Bring her home."
"How….?" Rollo turned back to his god, but found himself alone.
The blankness of the space confused his senses. It was infinite and claustrophobic in its nothingness. He felt deaf and blind.
A shout startled him. A long remembered voice, one he'd never thought to hear again called his name. The sound, echoing in the nothingness, made him spin. His heart almost leapt out of his chest. He felt dizzy with the shock of seeing her, within his reach, after so long. Rollo shrugged off Odin's fickle nature, and laughed as he ran towards his beautiful Valkyrie. It could take forever to find Odin's hall. Or it might only take the blink of an eye. Either way, it didn't matter. As long as they were together, they were home.
And then she was in his arms. Rollo picked her up as her own arms wrapped around his neck and her mouth found his. They kissed, for forever it seemed, then he set her down on the ground.
"You took your time, Imp."
So, that's it.
Thank you so much for reading and reviewing. Mucky and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we did writing it.
I'm not sure if there will be more from us-this was just a one off because Mucky is...well... mucky and wanted to get down and dirty with Rollo, and I came along for the ride.
If you're interested in reading other stuff we and the other wonderful writers of The Freak Circle Press have done, click the link to our website on my profile or take a look at our Facebook page: freakcirclepress
Yep, I had to twist Ozzysgirl's arm behind her back to write this *apply sarcasm font*, but we had an awesome time and a right giggle doing it. We started out by writing Sons of Anarchy fan fiction. If you like that kind of thing, you'll find those fics at the website as well.
Now, we need to find more tall, bearded men to take advantage of…
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the reviews. The hardest thing about writing fanfic is keeping the characterisations, and it's great to know we got it right.
Hope to see you soon x